A society that relies on cheap food also relies on cheap labor. Look at the meat-processing industry. Worker conditions are so wretched, so little changed from Jungle days, that Human Rights Watch saw fit to issue a scathing report on the industry last January. Because meat is perishable and prohibitively expensive to keep frozen over long journeys, meat processing cannot readily be sent overseas -- unlike, say, manufacturing. So the trick, as the Human Rights Watch report shows in wrenching detail, is to recreate working conditions prevalent in places like Guatemala, here. Things are different in the large-scale fruit/vegetable business. …
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Tom Philpott was previously Grist's food writer. He now writes for Mother Jones.